NY wineries adjust to Cuomo’s new alcohol rules

Jul 22, 2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new rules for bars and restaurants last week in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The mandate prohibits businesses from serving alcohol to those who don’t also order food and requires all patrons to be seated.

While the new rules aim to prevent crowds from forming outside bars, as they have in parts of New York City, the executive order also applies to breweries and wineries tasting rooms across the state.

Credit Neil Sjoblom / Three Brothers Wineries

Erica Paolicelli, a partner at Three Brothers Wineries in Geneva and president of the New York Wine Industry Association, said crowding isn’t usually a problem at wineries, especially since they reopened for the season at half their normal capacity.

Both bars and tasting rooms, however, are subject to the same State Liquor Authority, as is any establishment serving alcohol to sitting customers. SLA guidelines now state “all licensed establishments with on premises privileges (e.g. restaurants, taverns, manufacturers with tasting rooms, etc.) shall not serve alcoholic beverages unless such alcoholic beverage is accompanied by the purchase of a food item.”

“It is what it is,” Paolicelli said. “We just want to follow the rules and stay open, because our livelihoods depend on it at this point.”

When the new rules were announced last Thursday, wineries in the Finger Lakes were about to greet a rush of weekend customers. Paolicelli said they had to scramble to meet the new rules in time.

“We’re right in the middle of our season,” she said. “We have reservations already on the book. To make a change like that is a big request.”

The update comes at a time when expenses for wineries already piling up. To maintain social distancing and keep customers safe, many expanded their outdoor space and hired more staff to wait and sanitize tables.

The SLA does not specify, however, the way by which customers must purchase food. Paolicelli said wineries in the region have adjusted the menus in a variety of ways, with some including cheese and crackers in the price of a tasting while others charging customers for snacks separate from their wines for just $1. Bars have done this too, with sarcastic names like “Cuomo Chips.”

“Everyone is doing it a little differently. Some people are calling it out as a line item,” Paolicelli said. “I’ve heard very unique kinds of ideas that people have. It is very last minute, so I think what people are doing this weekend will probably change and develop over time.”

While adding food costs less than $1 per customer, wineries of all sizes will feel the burden.

“This isn’t a small or large winery thing. It’s adding an expense, and expenses are high,” Paolicelli said.